T. charles Shafer Attorney At Law PLLC.

Can You Provide A Brief Timeline Of A Criminal Trial?


The criminal jury trial begins with a jury selection. It involves multiple juries being selected for the number of trials expected to be tried during that trial period. For instance, there may be three juries being picked for three different upcoming trials that week, depending on how long it is anticipated each trial may last. Once the jury is selected, the court orders the parties to reassemble at some point. A defendant may go directly to trial the same day, or be expected to return in several days.

At the start of the trial, typically the prosecution gives an opening statement, followed by an opening statement by the defense. Thereafter, since the state has the burden of proof, they get to present all of their evidence before the defense is allowed to present any of their evidence, if any. The state questions “examines” each witness called, and then the defense is allowed to cross examine the witness. If the defense calls witness is called, that process is reversed.

The defense is not required to present any evidence. The case rises or falls on the state’s evidence. Depending upon the number of witnesses, the length of their testimony, and the presentation of other evidence through the witnesses that become trial exhibits, a trial can be of short or as long duration. When the state’s evidence is fully presented, generally the jury is excused from the courtroom while certain motions for acquittal are made to the court by the defense. Many times, the judge and the attorneys involved will use this time to determine the instructions that will be read to the jury. If the defense motions are denied by the court, then the jury is once again assembled. The defense is then allowed to present the defense case, calling any witnesses and presenting other evidence. Defense witnesses are first questioned by the defense attorney, then the prosecutor.

After the defense rests their case, generally there is another excusal of the jury from the courtroom while additional motions are heard.

When the jury is returned to the courtroom, the state presents its closing argument, the defense presents a closing argument, and the prosecutor is then allowed to retake the podium and have the last word through a rebuttal closing argument. Thereafter, the jury is instructed by the judge and they leave the courtroom to deliberate. Items that have been admitted into evidence are double-checked, and then they too are taken to the jury. How long this entire process lasts from jury selection to verdict is determined generally by how much evidence is presented, as well as the number of defendants that are being tried together. Obviously, assuming the similar facts, a case with four co-defendants is likely to take longer to try than that of a single defendant. A case could last half a day or a month or more, depending upon the type of case, the number of defendants and charges, the amount of evidence and the number of witnesses called.

Are All Criminal Trials Jury Trials In Florida?

A non-jury bench trial with the judge sitting as trier of fact is available; however, the vast majority of criminal trials I have seen have been jury trials. Judges deal with numerous individuals on a daily basis, listening to numerous stories over and over again. After a time, even the best judges have to be on guard not to become jaded and cynical. On the other hand, a jury is composed of members of the community, hearing things fresh, usually for the first time. There is more than a single person deciding the facts, usually preferable to the defense.

Can Counseling Or Treatment Affect The Outcome Of A Criminal Trial?

Not usually. Treatment may be important in determining competency and whether a person was sane or insane at the time of the offense. But a person undergoing counseling or treatment, especially after a criminal act, while perhaps important for sentencing purposes, will not greatly affect a trial outcome. The jury trial is to decide facts occurring at a given date and time. Generally, such issues are more appropriate for plea negotiations, to request the prosecutor agree to a lesser sentence, or for sentencing itself, to show the steps the individual standing before the court has accomplished to rectify issues that perhaps contributed to actions and decisions that led to their arrest and prosecution.

Will The Plea Offer Be Off The Table If The Defendant Decides To Go To Trial?

Yes. This is especially true in today’s world, with younger prosecutors. In Florida, in state felony cases, the defense is permitted by rule to take depositions of witnesses listed by the state. Some prosecutors tell the defense that if depositions are taken any previously extended plea offers automatically will be withdrawn. This is a horrible practice, because many times deposition uncovers facts about the case not reflected in the police reports that enlighten both sides. Such information can change the course and direction of a case. Although prosecutors are free to extend and withdraw plea offers, it is unfair to require the defense attorney to forego properly preparing a case, or else risk a plea offer being withdrawn simply for doing what the law allows.

It is very rare for the prosecution to recommend the same sentence that was offered pre-trial after a defendant has been found guilty by a jury. Many judges will not sentence a defendant to a sentence offered pre-trial, even if told of the previous offer. The law allows this, under the theory that the judge presided over trial. The judge saw all the evidence and listened to all of the testimony, and is in the best position, based upon the totality of the presentation, both at trial and sentencing, to determine the appropriate sentence.

What Are Some Important Things People Should Know Prior To Going to Trial?

I cannot place too much emphasis on making sure that the client knows about the proper conduct to exhibit while at the courthouse and in the courtroom, during trial or pre-trial. I inform clients that while in trial they must assume that at all times one juror or another will have an eye upon them, trying to gauge them as a person by what they are see and the perceptions drawn from their actions and emotions. It is best to be respectful, forthright, calm to the point of stoic, and mannerly. This is a serious matter and it should be treated seriously. The less emotion exhibited the better. Obviously, a client should be counseled before trial on how to answer questions appropriately (only answer the question posed, do not offer information, etc.) and how to further conduct themselves while on the witness stand, if they decide to testify.

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